The film adaptation of the last book in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series has been split into two installments: I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 last night with two tweens, James and Michael, and three teens, Rose, Jon and Ben. Afterwards, we all went out for pizza and discussed the movie.
1. How did we like it?
One of my main criticisms of the “Harry Potter” movie franchise has been that the films have often sacrificed character development at the claw-footed altar of frenetic action sequences—particularly as the books became longer and more politically-nuanced. It seemed that in the films, each character was permitted to express only one emotion or trait–for Harry, it was stoicism; for Hermione, an intelligent, pedantic resourcefulness; for Snape, a love affair with the baleful, lingering glance; for the Weasley twins, rambunctious good humor, etc. This is not to say that I haven’t found each of the movies varying shades of deeply-enjoyable. When you weave together a cast of such Dickensian numbers, the overall emotional effect can still be one of richness and depth…
However, this particular installment of the story has occasionally been criticized for not having as much action as its hyper-kinetic counterparts—has even been accused of dragging in places–though, not by my review team, who summarized their feelings about the movie in broadly positive terms: “Brilliant!” “Beautifully filmed!” “It grabbed me in right from the very beginning!”
In short, we all appreciated the deeper look inside the heads and the hearts of the characters Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows offers, and still felt like there was a satisfying amount of action and surprise. This movie is a departure from the other films with good reason: Harry, Ron and Hermione must grow up and move beyond Hogwarts and the protective care of the adults in their lives if they are realistically going to find the pieces of Voldemort’s soul that have been divided into horcruxes, subsequently destroy Voldemort and his cadre of death-eaters, and bring their world-order back into a peaceful balance. In light of this all-consuming struggle against evil, the more-subdued, less-whimsical tone of the movie made sense to all of us.
2. Favorite scenes?
The animated reenactment of “The Tale of the Three Brothers” and the deathly hallows of the title was unanimously admired. “It looked very Tim Burton-like,” one panel member gushed. “It was a really good story-within-the-story, but at the same time, I sat there thinking ‘how did they imagine that? Could I do something that looked that cool?’ I liked that experience.”
Additionally, a Ministry of Magic courtroom scene with hovering dementors was pronounced “extremely creepy” while a scene early on with seven identical Harry Potters was revisited with lots of laughter.
3. Favorite characters?
Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix LeStrange was deemed horribly insane (“But I couldn’t take my eyes off of her”) and Dobby the House Elf was greeted like an old friend (“I missed him!”). However, the real honors went to Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley: “Anytime he was on the screen, he warmed it up,” my sole female reviewer claimed. “It is almost like Harry is about the action and Hermione is the brains, but Ron is the heart of their team. And everyone else really needs him around in order to keep trying.”
The rest of the panel nodded at this assessment in silent agreement.
4. Did we think the middle part dragged on too long?
5. Anything inappropriate?
One of my tween compatriots wanted to make sure that parents were forewarned about the intensity of a kiss that takes place towards the end of the movie–and the rest of my panel immediately concurred—though some panelists clearly remembered the scene with great fondness, as well. “I think the last pieces of my childhood exploded into ashes at that point,” another panelist sighed contentedly.
The scene in question, part of a living-nightmare sequence for Ron, involves a kiss between Harry and Hermione that in interviews Daniel Radcliffe described as both “vigorous” and “like kissing an animal.” In this viewer’s assessment…erm…this is not hyperbole. My discomfort-o-meter ratcheted into warning territory as I realized that while all relevant parts were thoroughly enshrouded in dream-fog, the implication by the scene’s close was that the glittery, torrid embrace between Harry and Hermione was taking place without clothes. To sum: the scene was a tad too intense for my preference, though I have no doubt it was a realistic-enough depiction of a young man’s aching neurosis.
6. Anything too scary?
“Not over-the-top scary, like Prisoner of Azkaban,” one panelist noted.
“It was actually a lot more quiet than the other movies,” remarked another panel member. “My parents stopped taking me to the Harry Potter movies in the theater because they found them too loud. This one wasn’t like that at all.”
Could it be: one person’s “boring middle” is another’s “refreshing change of pace”?
7. How did it depart from the book?
For the most part, we liked or accepted the departures from the book. I felt that some of the characters were actually more well-rounded in the movie, particularly secondary characters like Minister of Magic Scrimgouer and Aunt Muriel (the Weasley-matriarch and resident battle-axe) who both come off in the movie as more reasonable and less like mere caricatures or foils.
One change that did bother me, and it is minute in the scheme of things, was that in the movie Harry had no real resolution to the years of emotional abuse heaped on him by the Dursleys. In the book, Harry actually shakes hands with his cousin Dudley before saying goodbye to him for what is likely the last time. At that moment Harry realizes, that in his own stunted way, Dudley has been trying to thank him ever since their mutual encounter with the soul-sucking dementors a year prior. It is a small moment of grace, but one I was happy Harry had been allowed to have after losing his parents and taking on the daunting responsibility of destroying their murderer, Voldemort.
8. What is special about this installment?
The panel loved the friendships between the characters and remarked repeatedly on how much the characters trusted and depended on each other. Additionally, the panel enjoyed the fact that Harry, Ron and Hermione were growing into adults with a relish that, quite honestly, this reviewer could not match.
9. How good is this movie in refreshing us on the plot and the characters?
Not at all. The movie clearly assumes that if you haven’t read the books, you have at least seen all of the previous movies, and remember them with vivid clarity.
10. Harry and Hermione vs. Harry and Ginny: Did Harry wind up with the wrong girl?
For the cultural subsection that has never read the Harry Potter books but only watched the movies, there is technically one more installment before this question is definitively answered. However, one of the delights of the movie for me was seeing Ron begin to recognize how much he cared about Hermione. When he recounts how Hermione’s voice became a beam of light in his heart guiding him to rejoin the horcrux quest, I thought, “Yes, THAT is what Hermione needs: someone who will balance out her over-sized pragmatic logic with his over-sized heart.”
As for Harry, it seems premature to be pairing him off with anyone, what with another eight months before he meets Voldemort for their duel to the death…
Overall, our panel gave this movie six emphatic “I cannot possible wait for July 15 to see the ending” wails of infinite longing. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is rated PG-13 and is currently in broad, unmissable release.